The Port of Pascagoula is the seat of Jackson County in southeastern Mississippi in the United States. Lying on the banks of the Pascagoula Bay, the Port of Pascagoula is about 16 nautical miles east of the Port of Biloxi, Mississippi, and about 61 kilometers southwest of the Port of Mobile, Alabama. The Port of Pascagoula is part of the larger Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula metropolitan area. In 2000, over 26 thousand people lived in the Port of Pascagoula.
The Port of Pascagoula is a busy seaport and fishing center with an important industrial component that includes ship-building, petroleum, chemicals, and manufacturing of paper products. Northrop Grumman's Ship Systems owns Ingalls Shipbuilding, the State's biggest employer, which is located in the Port of Pascagoula. The port is also home to one of Chevron's biggest US refineries and oil platform builder Signal International.
The word "pascagoula" means "bread eaters," coming from the language of the indigenous peoples who lived in villages on the Pascagoula River. Hernando de Soto may have visited the area in the 1540s.
A local legend tells of the Pascagoula people chanting as they waded into the river to avoid being enslaved to their enemy tribe, the Biloxi. It is reported that the song of the people can still be heard near the "Singing River" on summer and autumn evenings.
The first European settlers of Pascagoula were Jean Baptiste Baudreau dit Graveline, Joseph Simon de la Pointe, and Madam Chaumont, de la Pointe's aunt. The area did not become part of the United States until 1812, and before then it changed hands many times between the English, Spanish, and French. For a couple of months in 1810, the Port of Pascagoula was part of the short-lived Republic of West Florida.
The Port of Pascagoula has been a center of trade since the early 19th Century, as the port developed along with the growth of commerce on the Pascagoula River system. In the 1830s, the east branch of the river was dredged, opening the way for ocean-going vessels into the Port of Pascagoula.
Before the American Civil War, the Port of Pascagoula handled more than a million bales of cotton from the rich plantations of the South. With increasing commerce, sawmills and shipyards grew up along the banks of the Pascagoula River.
To accommodate increased commercial traffic, the Port of Pascagoula widened the channel in the late 1870s. Mississippi's long-leaf yellow pine became an import export, shipped to sawmills downstream to be cut, and then shipped to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe.
The arrival of steamships made it possible for sawmills to meet the growth in the demand for Mississippi timber. By the early 20th Century, the Port of Pascagoula was the second biggest lumber port on the Gulf of Mexico, with many shipments going help build the Panama Canal. It operated with a natural 21-kilometer ship channel that was about 3.4 meters deep.
After the lumber boom period, private industry was well aware of the benefits of the Port of Pascagoula. By the 1940s, the primary industry in the area (and the biggest employer in the State) was shipbuilding.
The Jackson County Port Authority was established in 1956. Bayou Casotte was dredged and the harbor opened to new traffic in the late 1950s.
Today, the Port of Pascagoula's public facilities include four deep-water berths and two public terminal warehouses. The harbor also hosts private industries that include the Mississippi Phosphates Corporation, Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, First Chemical Corporation, VT Halter Marine, and Signal International. The Port of Pascagoula River Harbor also houses Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Signal International, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Naval Station Pascagoula.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina's 6.1-meter storm surge and huge waves devastated the Port of Pascagoula as well as Biloxi, Gulfport, and much of the Mississippi coast. Almost all of the city was flooded, and most of the homes near the beach were destroyed. FEMA trailers now decorate the site, and the citizens of the Port of Pascagoula feel somewhat forgotten. Even some of the US Navy destroyers that were being built in the shipyards were damaged.